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Bereaved parents embark on ‘amazing journey’ to help others

Ginny and Kerry Dennehy began cycling across Canada last May and plan to reach Newfoundland on Aug. 11.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/The Globe and Mail

The donors: Ginny and Kerry Dennehy

The gift: Raising $5-million and climbing

The cause: Mental health charities

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When Ginny and Kerry Dennehy's 17-year-old son, Kelty, began suffering bouts of depression, the couple felt lost.

Kelty was a popular, dynamic teenager with a promising future in hockey. But nothing seemed to ease his pain, and on March 2, 2001, he hanged himself in the family's home in Whistler, B.C. His parents were devastated but also determined to raise awareness about teenage suicide. They started the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation and began raising money for various charities, pulling in about $5-million so far. But then tragedy struck again.

The couple's younger daughter, Riley, struggled with the loss of her brother and developed an eating disorder. She eventually found happiness studying yoga and headed to Thailand in 2009 to take a course. During that trip she died of a heart attack in her sleep. She was 23.

The Dennehys were crushed and nearly gave up on the foundation. But they decided to keep going, knowing the donations were being put to good use. Ms. Dennehy, 60, left her job at IBM and began running the charity full-time while her husband, 64, continued working at a drug treatment centre in Vancouver.

After participating in a cycling event, a friend suggested they ride across Canada. It seemed ludicrous – until another friend donated a recreational vehicle, and two nephews offered to come along for support.

They started last May and plan to reach Newfoundland on Aug. 11. Their goal is to raise $2-million, but they also spend time at each stop talking about mental illness and Ms. Dennehy's new book, Choosing Hope: A Mother's Story of Love, Loss, and Survival.

"It has been the most amazing journey you can ever imagine," she said recently during a stop in Eastern Ontario. "I believe in life you don't have a choice of what happens to you but you do have a choice in how you deal with it. … No matter what happens in your life, you can go on. You have to dig to places you don't even know, but you can go on."

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pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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